Losing Hurts More Than Winning Feels Good

you may think you’re winning, but in reality, the casino’s got you right where they want you

They say sports bettors are the worst type of gamblers. The trouble is with sports bettors, they believe they’re smarter than the average Vegas visitor, who donates his money to casinos through slots, roulette and blackjack – games all carrying a slight edge in the house’s favor, that when compounded over time will bankrupt even the deepest pockets. Instead of wagering on games with unfavorable odds, sports bettors prefer to wager on the outcome of events that are independent of the casino’s control, events watched by the millions in homes, bars and restaurants all over the US every day – professional sports. This is the world of point spreads, underdogs, favorites, moneylines and over/unders. Welcome to the major leagues of gambling.

A friend of mine once told me that all men believe, generally incorrectly, that they are expert lovers and expert drivers.  I would add another area in which most men think they are more skilled than they actually are, and that’s in their knowledge of professional sports; more specifically, in their ability to accurately gauge the strength of one team and its players versus an opposing team and its respective players. Or simply: If Team A played Team B, who would win and by how much? (this is called “handicapping”) In spite of the disparity between our actual handicapping abilities and our perceived handicapping abilities, I still think that most guys would have more success betting on sports, especially a sport they love and follow closely, than on casino table games.


Now is an opportune time for a brief primer on the basics of sports betting. Basically, you choose Team A or Team B to win, and if you’re right, you double your money. Conversely, if the team you pick loses, you lose all your money. You could equate it to an extremely exciting, two hour-long coinflip. Even if you didn’t know much about sports, given a large enough sample size, I’d guess that you’d win about 50% of the time and lose about 50% of the time, or basically, you’d be exactly where you started, no richer, no poorer (you do lose “juice” to the casino which is like interest on a loan but you can Google that if you want to learn more about sports betting). And let’s say you happened to be a fairly competent NBA or NFL fan, stuck within your sport of choice, stayed away from parlays and more exotic bets, I’d say you’d probably win more than 50% of your bets, earning you a small profit over time (53% winners is the actual break-even point you’d need to achieve to make up for the casino’s “juice” or interest, think of it as small fee they charge to play at their establishment).

And I think most sports bettors can do this, but they can’t sustain it for long, and it’s not because of their inability to choose winners, it’s due to an inability to handle the emotional swings of winning and losing, which in turn causes poor money management (basically betting more than you can afford to lose). I recall Chick Hearn saying after a particularly painful Laker defeat, “Losing hurts more than winning feels good.” I’m not sure if the legendary Lakers play-by-play announcer ever dabbled in sports betting, but that quote sure does seem to sum it up. The unstable period of wild wagering that follows a particularly heart-breaking loss is known in the poker community as going “on-tilt.” And it’s during this frenzied state that even the most talented player can give all his profits back to the casino (or the other players at the table in the case of poker) in a matter of minutes – profits which may have taken months or years of disciplined wagering to compile.

bunny crying

“Why the hell did I bet on the Knicks?”

If it sounds like some kind of twisted nightmare, I’m afraid you’re wrong. Dreams are in our imagination, but that gut-wrenching feeling you get after losing a week’s paycheck on a desperation, fadeaway 3-pointer? All too real.

Photo credit: “You make vita cry!” by Jannes Pockele licensed by CC 2.0.

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